Prior to this season, the Seahawks had missed the playoffs once since quarterback Russell Wilson was taken in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft. That was 2017, when they still managed to finish above .500 at a record of 9-7. What could have been seen as a bump in the road instead led to significant organizational changes, such as the firings of both offensive and defensive coordinators Darrell Bevell and Kris Richard, as well as the injury-assisted dismantling of the storied "Legion of Boom."
Therefore, with Seattle quickly going from Super Bowl hopeful to a bottom-10 team over the course of the 2021 campaign, many have anticipated a complete teardown of the franchise's structure. After all, the team's 7-10 record was the worst under head coach Pete Carroll, who's only won three playoff games in the seven years since the nightmare that was Super Bowl XLIX. Add in the ongoing trade speculation revolving around star quarterback Russell Wilson and a few offseasons that left more to be desired from general manager John Schneider, all signs pointed to a little over half a decade's worth of frustrations finally coming to a head following this disastrous year.
But before Sunday's Seahawks-less playoff action began, ESPN NFL insider Chris Mortensen reported that both Carroll and Schneider will return for the 2022 season. This news, understandably, received mixed reactions from the Seattle faithful on social media—many of whom have pounded the table for major personnel changes since the midseason point and even earlier. However, popular or not, there are grounds for team chair Jody Allen's lack of action.
Firstly, Carroll and Schneider's recent extensions are a not-so-insignificant obstacle for Allen and company to hurdle. Signing his latest deal in November of 2020, Carroll is currently under contract through the 2025 season and is speculated to make an annual salary of more than $10 million per year. Given that most NFL head coaching contracts are fully guaranteed, the Seahawks would theoretically be on the hook for at least $40 million if they decided to part ways.
It's understood that general managers, meanwhile, make anywhere from $1 million to $4 million annually, so firing Schneider, whose track record likely lands him on the latter half of that range, would be a far less costly venture. Nevertheless, his extension runs through the 2027 NFL Draft, which would add roughly another $24 million onto Seattle's tab. This, of course, is not enough to handcuff a multi-billion-dollar entity like Allen and Vulcan Inc., but essentially setting an upwards of $64 million on fire is something they would preferably avoid unless their hand is forced.
One could argue a season like what Seattle just endured should warrant such measures. After all, from fans to figures in the organization, football in the Pacific Northwest is held to a very high standard—and many feel that standard hasn't been met in years. But let's not pretend we're talking about a bottom-feeding dumpster fire that consistently vies for the league's top draft choice. This is a regime that, since taking over in 2010, has the second-most playoff appearances in the NFC (9) and is just one year removed from the last of its six division titles.
From a pure accomplishment standpoint, the Carroll-led Seahawks are one of the NFL's model franchises.
Sure, they severely underachieved in 2021, but they were also incredibly misfortunate at times as well. Their sky-high aspirations ultimately live and die by Wilson's availability and productivity; and when the quarterback suffered ligament damage and a fracture in the middle finger of his throwing hand, it was more or less "game over."
With backup Geno Smith at the helm, Seattle went 1-2—not counting the Week 5 loss to the Rams from which Wilson exited. Then, upon his return in Week 10, a three-game losing streak ensued to put the team at an abysmal record of 3-8. By his own admission, Wilson was physically less than 100 percent during that stretch. Evidently, he ranked 28th out of 34 quarterbacks in expected points added per dropback (-0.23), 26th in passer rating (73.2) and 30th in completion rate (55.7 percent).
The further removed he got from his injury and subsequent surgery, however, the more those numbers took a turn for the better. Even with hiccups against the Rams and Bears, Wilson finished the year 11th in EPA per dropback (0.09), fifth in passer rating (103.7) and 16th in completion rate (64.6 percent) over the final six weeks of the season. The Seahawks went 4-2 in that time, including a 51-point explosion against the lowly Lions and an upset win on the road over the division rival Cardinals, and the energy they carried week-by-week did not look like that of a 7-10 cellar-dweller.
Not to be overlooked is the sudden breakout of running back Rashaad Penny, who returned from a hamstring injury in Week 13. From that point forward, Penny went on to lead the league in rushing yards (706), yards per attempt (6.92), rushes of 20 yards or more (11) and yards after contact per rush (4.98). While this incredible level of production is likely unsustainable moving forward, it helped Seattle find an offensive identity it sorely lacked for most of the year.
Hopefully, that momentum can be carried over into 2022 to help alleviate some of the workload placed on a defense that led the league in time played (34:44). At its healthiest, and when it finally found a solution to its woes at cornerback, defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.'s unit was firing on all cylinders. From Weeks 6-10, prior to rookie Tre Brown's season-ending patella tendon injury, Seattle ranked second in points per drive (1.36) and yards per play (4.77), fourth in opponent red zone efficiency (42.9 percent) and ninth in opponent third down conversion rate (34.5 percent). Its opponents during that time finished the season second (Packers), 23rd (Saints), 25th (Steelers) and 27th (Jaguars) in offensive DVOA, however.
In the second half of the year, which was spent mostly without Brown or star safety Jamal Adams (torn labrum), the Seahawks still managed to field an average-ranking defense. Despite being 25th in yards allowed per game (359.2) from Weeks 10-18, they were 15th in points allowed per game (21.89), 17th in points per drive (1.94), 14th in yards per play (5.20), 15th in opponent red zone efficiency (53.3 percent), 11th in pressure rate (6.5 percent), tied-ninth in forced turnovers (9), sixth in rushing yards allowed per game (101.2) and third in yards per carry allowed (3.41).
Additionally, special teams were arguably Seattle's biggest strength for the entirety of 2021. Punter Michael Dickson led the NFL in pinning opponents within their own 20- (50 percent) and 10-yard lines (20 percent), while Nick Bellore and Travis Homer made coordinator Larry Izzo proud with their constant activity in everything the unit did. Very few teams were better at controlling field position than the Seahawks.
With all that said, there is no denying the fact that Seattle has to considerably improve in several areas along its roster, as well as retain many of its key contributors in free agency this March. But there are clearly building blocks in place, and the team is currently projected by Over the Cap to have $51.5 million in salary cap space—the sixth-most in the NFL.
It may be odd to say this about an organization coming off its worst season in 13 years, but you don't have to squint to see a pathway back to prominence. Momentum has been accrued, an identity has been found and there are plenty of resources at Schneider's disposal to reinforce the roster across the board. Of course, some demons, particularly in free agency, will have to be exorcised along the way for the longtime general manager.
Interestingly, while those on the outside have painted a different picture, both Carroll and Schneider have received plenty of unprompted public support from several Seahawks players. Impending free agent safety Quandre Diggs quote-tweeted Mortensen's report on Sunday claiming anyone who feels their widely demanded exits would benefit the franchise is "crazy."
Frankly, it doesn't sound like Seattle's leadership group has lost its locker room—quite the opposite, in fact. That's not to say every single player on the roster is a fan of Carroll and his philosophy, or there's not even a hint of dysfunction in parts of the franchise, but the notion that the players and a particular sect of the fanbase are in agreement on where the team needs to go is overblown.
In a year's time, if things stand in a similar fashion to how they do now, the situation can be re-evaluated. By that point, the biggest domino that could fall, Wilson, will be entering the final season of his four-year, $140 million extension.
But with the Seahawks currently in the driver's seat on that front, boasting one of the better cap situations in the league and coming off a season marred by multiple key injuries, completely reshaping the landscape of the organization simply feels inappropriate at this time.